In hindsight, most would not have believed some of the wild things that happened in last year's NBA draft.
If someone had slapped a bold prediction on the table saying four players from the Kentucky Wildcats would go off the board in the lottery, one might have scoffed. Then Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker did just that.
If someone said the first player to skip college to play in China and then enter the draft would be a top-seven pick, well, yeah right, right? Then Emmanuel Mudiay came off the board at No. 7.
It goes on and on. But the lesson is rather simple: No bold prediction is too crazy ahead of Thursday's 2016 NBA draft, unless it's blatantly impossible.
With such an understanding in mind, here's a look at an updated mock with some notable predictions after the jump.
2016 NBA Mock Draft
|1.||Philadelphia 76ers||F Ben Simmons, LSU|
|2.||Los Angeles Lakers||SF Brandon Ingram, Duke|
|3.||Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn)||PF Dragan Bender, Croatia|
|4.||Phoenix Suns||SG Jamal Murray, Kentucky|
|5.||Minnesota Timberwolves||SF Jaylen Brown, California|
|6.||New Orleans Pelicans||SG Buddy Hield, Oklahoma|
|7.||Denver Nuggets (via New York)||F Marquese Chriss, Washington|
|8.||Sacramento Kings||PG Kris Dunn, Providence|
|9.||Toronto Raptors (via Denver)||C Jakob Poeltl, Utah|
|10.||Milwaukee Bucks||C Thon Maker, Orangeville Prep|
|11.||Orlando Magic||PF/C Deyonta Davis, Michigan State|
|12.||Utah Jazz||F Henry Ellenson, Marquette|
|13.||Phoenix Suns (via Washington)||C Skal Labissiere, Kentucky|
|14.||Chicago Bulls||G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky|
|15.||Denver Nuggets (via Houston)||SG Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey|
|16.||Boston Celtics (via Dallas)||SG Timothe Luwawu, France|
|17.||Memphis Grizzlies||PG Dejounte Murray, Washington|
|18.||Detroit Pistons||SG Denzel Valentine, Michigan State|
|19.||Denver Nuggets (via Portland)||G Caris LeVert, Michigan|
|20.||Indiana Pacers||PF Brice Johnson, North Carolina|
|21.||Atlanta Hawks||C Diamond Stone, Maryland|
|22.||Charlotte Hornets||PF Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga|
|23.||Boston Celtics||F Paul Zipser, Germany|
|24.||Philadelphia 76ers (via Miami)||G Malik Beasley, Florida State|
|25.||Los Angeles Clippers||C Cheick Diallo, Kansas|
|26.||Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City)||F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida|
|27.||Toronto Raptors||F Taurean Prince, Baylor|
|28.||Phoenix Suns (via Cleveland)||C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt|
|29.||San Antonio Spurs||PG Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame|
|30.||Golden State Warriors||C Zhou Qi, China|
Bold Predictions for 1st-Round Prospects
Zhou Qi Sneaks in the First Round
Chinese center prospect Zhou Qi made a huge splash at the scouting combine because, well, he's huge.
Qi measures in at 7'2" and 218 pounds, and according to the ESPN.com scouting report, posted averages of 17.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as of January.
At the combine, most of the NBA saw this incredible size in action for the first time, with the only major red flag popping up coming in the weight and strength category. That, and according to ESPN's Chad Ford, age might enter the conversation:
Chad Ford @chadfordinsider
Chinese big man Zhou Qi will remain in the draft. Tough to gauge his draft stock. Very talented but teams think he's older than listed age2016-6-13 23:35:51
If true, NBA teams will wind up having less time than anticipated to help Qi fill out his frame and develop into a player who gets significant minutes.
Still, he's the type of prospect a team with multiple picks or simply sitting in a position of luxury pulls the trigger on and hopes for the best. In the mock above, the Golden State Warriors roll the dice, hoping for a long-term solution at center—and as a bonus, Qi can consistently knock down shots from deep.
Most figure Qi falls out of the first round, with Ford slotting him 48th on his big board. But Qi's rare skill set will have him labeled as a first-round pick.
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It seems many don't want to buy into the Thon Maker hype either.
Maker has also taken an unconventional route to the NBA, but has a new-era skill set at center that teams simply cannot afford to ignore.
After somewhat breaking the draft process via a loophole and finding himself eligible anyway, Maker is an attractive target for teams in need underneath the basket because he comes in at 7'1" and 216 pounds and can shoot well from anywhere on the court.
Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com touched on a common theme surrounding Maker when talking about the Australian prospect:
Steve Kyler @stevekylerNBA
I don't see Thon Maker as viable for the Pistons. Stan does not have patience for that kind of development. https://t.co/kpg5BETSLu2016-6-19 13:01:40
Many teams seem to think it can happen both ways and get a high-upside player who won't need long to develop. It's rare and usually a line of thinking leading to years of misery.
Maker is a big project, no doubt. But the NBA draft is all about upside in a league where—unlike say, the NFL—the prospects are second-bit players to what a team can accomplish in free agency or via trade.
It's why Maker will still come off the board in the lottery. The Milwaukee Bucks pull the trigger in the above mock and let him grow alongside a core boasting Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Maker is a long-term investment, but based on the upside, a worthy one early in the round if he meshes well with a team's plans.
Marquese Chriss Completes Role as Biggest Later Riser
It wasn't easy to find info about Washington's Marquese Chriss a few weeks ago. Now he has to deal with the stigma of being the most notable late riser in the class.
Why it took the hype machine this long to build up Chriss is hard to understand. He's 6'9" and 233 pounds with some of the most alluring upside in the class after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 13.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three-point range.
A June ESPN.com update took a stab at explaining the late rise:
Chriss has been in our top eight for the past few months. His combination of size, athleticism, shooting ability and shot blocking is rare. While he's still a major work in progress, the upside makes him incredibly attractive to teams outside the top two trying to hit a home run in this draft. The Celtics, Suns, Wolves, Pelicans, Nuggets, Kings and Raptors all have strong interest, putting his range at No. 3-9.
On the other hand, CBSSports.com's Matt Moore provided an idea for teams in love with Chriss' upside, but don't want to roll the dice right now:
Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball
Thing with Marquese Chriss: Target him for trade in the last year of his rookie deal or as an RFA instead of drafting him.2016-6-16 17:57:51
The only problem there is the team willing to make the initial investment might be unable to let Chriss go if he pans out. As the above mock shows, he's a stellar fit in Denver, where he joins a lineup already featuring Mudiay, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.
This upside and strong fit with various teams in the lottery means Chriss will land as the biggest surprise of the draft in the minds of those who turned away from the draft process down the stretch.
For those who kept paying attention, Chriss will merely slot as the biggest late riser to cash in, making him one of the most notable rookies to watch all year long.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.